Now, I would be among the last people to call Michigan a "renegade" program. While I have little affinity for the Wolverines – how could I? I’m an Ohio State alumnus – I won’t chuck stones just to chuck 'em. I will say, however, Michigan might have issues today that undermine its holier-than-thou reputation. The journalistic evidence points in that direction.
A lot of the recent evidence comes from the reporting of Jim Schaefer, a man who I befriended while picking up my master’s at Ohio State two decades ago. Like me, Jim bleeds Scarlet and Gray. Unlike me, a sportswriter, Jim has his journalistic principles intact.
In Jim’s world, right trumps partisanship, a comforting thought to hear. He would no more let his affinity for the Buckeyes guide his journalism than I would bungee jump or go deep-sea diving.
Just call me chicken, ‘cause I’m no risk-taker.
Yet here Jim is, having his journalism questioned. No matter that the man has a Pulitzer Prize displayed on his mantel. Forgot about the fact that Jim’s reportial skills took down a corrupt mayor and has sent drug dealers, rapists and stone-cold killers to prison during his two decades in the Detroit media.
None of that meant anything – not to the Michigan loonies, those mindless acolytes who would disgrace their lineage and lie before doing or saying anything that would sully the football program’s reputation, a friend of mine who follows Michigan told me.
He pointed out that the pro-Michigan lobby accused Jim Schaefer and The Free Press of going “above and beyond” to publish negative stories about coach Rich Rodriguez and Michigan football.
Filling the blogosphere with foolishness, the pro-Michigan lobby has alleged that even Lloyd Carr, the former UM coach who was booted on his behind in favor of Rodriguez, has put his Michigan bona fides at risk to help undo the program.
But the Michigan lobby’s most outlandish allegation – if rumors of Carr’s contribution to the stories about Rodriguez’s alleged wrongdoings aren’t outrageous enough – is that Schaefer is investigating Michigan to keep the program from returning to its past glory.
Keep in mind that the journalists behind the initial stories on Rodriguez and the football program were Michigan alums, and what role Schaefer and anybody else at The Free Press have played is to complement what has developed into an intriguing piece of probing journalism.
It would be naïve for people to believe the problems at Michigan are unique to Michigan. I doubt any of the football powerhouses have athletic programs that couldn’t use a steamy bath in Clorex to cleanse things.
But it’s Michigan, not Ohio State or Oklahoma or Florida, that’s under NCAA scrutiny, and the sooner the Wolverine faithful set their program straight the sooner the stories will be about what happens inside the Big House on Saturdays and not on what happens off the football field the rest of the week.
Until that happens, Schaefer, Mike Rosenberg and other journalists will be pouring their investigative energies into stories that might make life a little uncomfortable in Maize and Blue country. They do what they do not because they dislike Michigan; they do it because it is their job: They right wrongs.